So much has been written about impact of culture on results in the business world, however not nearly enough is written about its impact on philanthropy. Ironically, culture has just as big, if not larger, effect on philanthropy as it does for any business.

Let’s Explore the Impact on Business First

Whether it is a start-up company or an established major corporation or even a local retail franchise, we hear about the huge difference a special culture can make. I am a firm believer in this mindset because the results speak for themselves.

Time after time we see unique and special cultures making a difference in these key areas:

  1. Employee Engagement
  2. Employee Retention
  3. Customer Satisfaction
  4. Customer Loyalty
  5. Long Term Customer Value
  6. Return on Investment

NordstromFavorite Story on Company Culture

One of my favorite stories about company culture is Nordstrom’s Employee Handbook, which on a single 5×8 inch card merely states the following:

Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our Company. Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them.

Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.

I personally have found such a set of “values” to hold up quite well. I remember a former employee pressing me hard on creating an in-depth employee manual during an early company meeting of a new business. There was a look of total surprise when I deferred to the Nordstrom model. The employee was quite pleasantly surprised to know any business could operate in such a manner.

Top Two Culture Axioms

My two favorite culture-related axioms for both the business and the philanthropy world are:

  1. Culture Always Holds Up. Rules Never Do
  2. Culture Trumps Strategy Every Time

Pause and think how insightful and powerful both of those axioms are and can be if truly internalized by every employee and in the case of nonprofits, volunteers.

Let’s Explore Culture’s Impact on Philanthropy

This impact begins with the following proven fact:

Successful philanthropy is based upon relationships.

This means people interacting with other people, even if they happen to be key players at corporations or foundations. Relationships happen at every level of any nonprofit. Yes, every single employee and volunteer from entry level or part-time up through the Executive Director are creating and shaping relationships daily!

We have all seen, and more importantly felt, the difference of impressions given by an employee coming from a vibrant culture. They are engaged, excited and genuinely care about anything and everything that could make a difference in a relationship.

To net it out, everyone on any nonprofit team must be of the same cultural mindset of nurturing relationships.

Favorite Story on Nonprofit Culture

A favorite story, which reflects the same mindset philosophy, revolves around a local charity I serve on the board of. During a recent capital campaign, not only did every single employee of this large charity pledge, but numerous entry-level employees also made five figure commitments. That is a beautiful culture!

Let’s recap the same key areas impacted by culture for business, as they would be for philanthropy. Notice how similar they are and the tremendous influence they all have on results:

  1. Employee Engagement
  2. Employee Retention
  3. Donor Satisfaction
  4. Donor Loyalty
  5. Donor Retention
  6. Impact on Mission Achievement

Would not every charity love to have the above results? They can be yours if the proper culture is carefully nurtured throughout. Mind you this is not just lip service, but instead truly living such a culture of relationship building and caring every minute. It is worth every ounce of effort for the results outlined above!

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.